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Raising the Bar

New York
Merkin Concert Hall
11/03/1999 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonatas Op. 31, #2, Op. 54, Op. 106
Robert Taub (piano)

Zubin Mehta likes to tell the story of visiting a regional orchestra in India and listening to a performance of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik which was absolutely horrible. He diplomatically expressed his distaste to the conductor who replied "but you should have heard them six months ago!" Musical performance exists on all levels of proficiency and artistic merit and a sensitive critic must try and adjust his ears to the individual venue in order to truly appreciate the experience presented before him. However, there are some pieces of music that are so often performed and are such a major thread in the fabric of music history as to merit only the finest of executions. Such a body of work is the Beethoven Piano Sonatas, in many ways the cornerstone of modern Western civilization. We have all had personal experiences with these works, whether as fumbling keyboard students, entranced listeners or advanced scholars and we have certainly all heard them performed by the best available artists, at least through the magic of electronics. It is thus a bit cheeky to program the entire cycle of 32 sonatas unless one is an artist of the highest caliber.

Robert Taub is certainly a scholar and an intellectual pianist in the tradition of his mentor Jacob Lateiner. Mr. Taub is well known for his forays into the contemporary repertoire, recently premiering the Piano Concerto #2 of Milton Babbitt with the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra under James Levine. However, as a keyboard artist his deficient technique frustrates his cerebral abilities and one can sense his melancholy surrounding the naked truth that his fingers do not respond to what his brain and ear desire. In the "Tempest" for example, Taub is well aware of the contrasting figures of loud strident left hand and spidery delicate right, but he cannot pull it off because his touch is just not that well developed. This manual rebellion does not allow him to project what he discussed in the pre-concert lecture and thus the overall experience for the listener was one of sympathy for a man who really wants to communicate but doesn’t have the proper tools.

Unfortunately Taub’s many mistakes in fingering led to intonation problems of the most exasperating nature and it is hard to imagine what his traversal of all 32 essays would add to the general knowledge and appreciation of these seminal works. Taub thinks like a composer and seems to have an advanced conception of musical architecture but unfortunately plays like many of the composers of the past in a hesitatingly amateurish (in the best sense of the word) manner. I wanted to enjoy this program much more than I did and came away with a respect for the artist but with no desire to ever hear him play again.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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